Men and women wore vibrantly colored dhoti, classical Indian garb, while the sound of transcendental hymns and the smell of traditional Indian cuisine filled the air as the HUB lawn was temporarily transformed into ancient India yesterday afternoon.
The Penn State Vedic Society, along with the Festival of India, presented Transcendence ’04: A Celebration of Culture, to pay tribute to the richness of Indian culture and the teachings of the ancient Indian texts, the Vedas.
“Vedic knowledge says that real happiness can be achieved through the transcendence of bodily designations,” Aravind Mohanram, a member of the Vedic Society, said. “All the exhibits today are consistent with this idea.”
A few tents offered a historical overview of ancient Indian teachings, including information on Srila Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna movement, which brought Vedic knowledge to “the world outside of India.”
Several multi-colored tents housed such topics as the “Science of Reincarnation” and the “Mystery of the Consciousness,” which explored different perspectives on commonly accepted scientific explanations. The big-bang theory, for example, “is just another attempt … to explain the universe in a mechanistic way,” one sign read.
Mike Bowser (senior-life science) said the festival was a good way to introduce students to a new viewpoint, but said he was surprised by some of the information available in the exhibits.
“There is, at least in my opinion, some controversial information here,” he said. “It’s interesting, because so many people believe in these things like reincarnation, but science says something else.”
Other students said the festival was a much-needed cultural event.
“As a whole, this community needs more non-material energy, and I could not be happier this is taking place today,” John Snyder (senior-agroecology) said. “I loved the transcendental art tent; the photographs were just so great, they made me want to visit India.”
One popular stand was the vegetarian buffet provided by the festival. The buffet offered traditional Indian cuisine such as curry, boiled rice and Halwa, a sweet dish made from semolina, sugar, raisins and nuts.
Padmaja Vittal, Vedic Society vice-president, said the festival was created to foster a better understanding of Indian culture.
“This is a window to India for people of all different cultures,” she said. “People can see the rich knowledge available in the Vedas, and that Vedic literature is rich in practical ways about going through life.”
Around 6 p.m., the festival moved indoors to HUB Heritage Hall, where the cultural program continued with different artistic performances, in front of about 50 people.
Avatar Studios performed three numbers combining the culture styles of the East and West. The group described the music as “an unprecedented fusion of two great cultures.”
Joshua Greene, an Emmy-nominated producer for his work on Witness: Voices of the Holocaust, delivered a speech on the famous Beatle, George Harrison, and his contribution to introducing Indian culture to America.
Greene said India continues to have cultural, spiritual and philosophical influence on the quality of life in America. He also said it was important for students to experience and recognize this contribution.
“You don’t get the full value of an institution such as Penn State if you only immerse yourself in the culture and ideas you already know,” he said.